From the Principal's Office: Roadmap to a Job-Embedded Growth Model

I remember a few years back during a meeting with teacher leaders, a tipping point that would ultimately change the direction of professional growth at my school. During this conversation I was passionately sharing my experiences as a connected learner. As social media embracement was not even a blip on the radar at this time, these teacher leaders were quite skeptical about the alleged benefits I described. Undeterred, I continued to talk about the concept of a Personal Learning Network (PLN) and what it had done for my professional growth. I shared how it’s simplistic nature, built on conversations with educators all over the world, led to new knowledge development, resource acquisition, exposure to innovative ideas and strategies, support, feedback, friendships, and spirited discussion. Best of all, at least in my mind, was the newfound ability to learn anytime, from anywhere, with anyone in the world for free. Little did I know that this conversation set the stage for one of the most significant learning shifts we ever experienced at my school.

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Once I got off my soapbox to catch a breath, one of my teachers said that this concept was great, but questioned the amount of time that teachers had in general to engage in meaningful learning. With all the many state mandates and district directed professional development, as well as time after school devoted to grading and lesson planning, in her mind and many others, time was not readily available. Who was I to disagree, as her words were stark fact. In concert my teacher leaders said it would be great if we could have a job-embedded growth model as many organizations have in the real world. Well this is just fine and dandy in theory, but much more difficult in practice.

I wanted to try really hard to at least attempt to find a way to implement a consistent pathway to learning during the school day as my teachers had requested. Then it came to me, much to the chagrin of my Assistant Principal. My inspiration came in the form of the Google 80/20 Innovation Model. The premise of this for a long time was that Google employees had to spend 80% of their time on their actual job duties, while the other 20% could be spent working on anything they were passionate about as long as it improved Google’s bottom line. When reflecting on this, the light bulb went on and I seized on an area of opportunity embedded in the eight period day schedule. In the end we created our own Google 80/20 model at my school even though Google axed the program last year.

By contract all teachers had to teach five periods. In addition, they each had a lunch, prep, and duty period all 48 minutes in length. It was at this time that I saw an area of opportunity in the form of non-instructional duties (cafeteria, hall, in-school suspension). Every teacher had one non-instructional duty period a day in their schedule. By cutting the non-instructional duties in half, I was able to free up each of my teachers two to three periods a week allowing them to engage in activities related to professional growth. This was the birth of the Professional Growth Period (PGP). In order to free up our teachers, my Administrative team and I assumed the duties that were cut to pick up the slack. Now you see why my Assistant Principal was not happy with me at first. Once we got rolling though we realized that our improving school culture did not warrant so much attention to, and supervision of, duties, which eventually made it much easier on all of us.

PGP time for the past two yeas has been dedicated for my staff to become better educators and learners. Depending on the semester, all teachers now have 2-3 duty periods off per week to engage in professional learning opportunities. The have been encouraged to find their passion and work to define their purpose. This time is spent learning, innovating, and pursuing ways to become a master educator. Think of it as a differentiated learning opportunity that caters to each of my staff member’s specific needs and interests. Sample activities include:

  • becoming a connected educator by developing and engaging in a Personal Learning Network (PLN)
  • researching best practices
  • developing innovative learning activities
  • creating interdisciplinary lessons
  • engaging in face-to-face professional development
  • learning to use new technologies
  • earning a digital badge
  • collaborating on projects with colleagues.

This is the time that they desperately wanted and needed to improve their craft, build on innovative thoughts and ideas they always wanted to pursue, and acquire new knowledge. It was stressed that this time was not to be used to make copies, leave the building to get coffee/food, or socialize in the faculty room. It become all about the learning. The expectation was, and has been, that each staff member submits a learning portfolio at the end of year evaluation conference that demonstrates how PGP time was used to improve his/her professional practice. The portfolio can be created in any way that fits the creative nature of the staff member, but should clearly identify what was done to:

  • improve instruction
  • effectively integrate technology
  • engage students
  • address the Common Core Standards
  • increase student achievement

The PGP Learning portfolio has been presented at the end of year evaluation conference for the past two yeas and is one of the major artifacts used in the McREL observation/evaluation tool. It can be created in anyway that my teachers see fit, but it must clearly articulate what they learned and how this knowledge and/or sills were integrated into professional practice to improve student learning. Adding more depth to the PGP process and portfolio has been the digital badge platform created by media specialist Laura Fleming to acknowledge the informal learning of our teachers. The end result has been a proliferation of innovative practices as teachers have been empowered to take ownership of their learning through autonomy. Removing the time excuse didn't hurt either.

cross-posted at A Principal's Reflections

Eric Sheninger will be the keynote speaker at the 2014 New York Tech Forum on Friday October 24, 2014. He is a NASSP Digital Principal Award winner (2012), PDK Emerging Leader Award recipient (2012), winner of Learning Forward's Excellence in Professional Practice Award (2012) and co-author of Communicating and Connecting With Social Media: Essentials for Principals and What Principals Need to Know About Teaching and Learning Science. He presents and speaks nationally to assist other school leaders in effectively using technology. His blog, A Principal's Reflections, was selected as Best School Administrator Blog in 2011 by Edublogs.